Nelson Piquet Junior is a driver under enormous pressure at the moment. The Brazilian’s career was already hanging in the balance before the season began, but is now on a real knife edge.
Nelsinho can count himself lucky to be on the grid at all this year after a dismal rookie season. Piquet made the typical mistakes that you would expect from any newcomer, but made them way too often and could not back up his errors with any real pace.
Renault gave their number two driver a second chance this year after dismissing 2008 as a learning experience. Most drivers don’t need to spend twelve months acclimatising to F1, especially since most never get the opportunity, but Flavio Briatore clearly felt that Piquet had enough promise to keep him on board.
Flavio might be reviewing that decision in the near future because his young charge is showing no signs of improvement.
If anything, his performances are getting worse.
Nelson has continued to make regular mistakes in 2009 and is slipping further behind his teammate.
It is a great shame because Piquet has done very well in the junior categories and clearly has a lot of talent. He gave Lewis Hamilton a real hard time in GP2 and that is the sort of form his bosses have been hoping will develop in F1.
Sadly, it just isn’t happening.
It must be very difficult for Nelsinho with everyone around him centred on Fernando Alonso. Perhaps another team would give him more of a chance to grow because he is seemingly unable to show his true potential at Renault.
Having said that, guys like Vettel have proven that raw skill and determination will still shine brighter than circumstance.
Briatore is not a forgiving boss so will have no hesitation in giving out marching orders before the season is over.
He can afford to since there is no shortage of quality drivers on the market right now without an F1 seat. Anthony Davidson or Vitantonio Liuzzi would both be perfect candidates. Takuma Sato, who nearly tested for the team last year, would also be a good bet. He might break as many front wings as Piquet but at least he would be fast.
However, perhaps the best option for Renault is one from left field.
Sebastien Loeb is the most successful rally driver of all time and is on his way to a sixth consecutive World Championship. He is one hell of a great driver, and is also one of the most marketable.
Especially for a Parisian team like Renault.
If it wasn’t for all of the impossible contractual and logistical issues, Renault could have the French hero in their F1 car before the end of 2009.
Loeb has won all four WRC events this year and at this rate he could secure the world title with a few rallies remaining. That would conceivably give him enough time to make an early switch to Formula One.
If he became 2009 champion with three rallies to go on the calendar he could jump into the Renault F1 car for the European Grand Prix in Valencia.
Loeb might not be a match for Piquet, but he probably wouldn’t be that far off and would more than make up for any shortfall in publicity for the team.
It won’t happen of course but it doesn’t hurt to dream. Sebastien Loeb in a Renault F1 car would be fantastic for all concerned.
Except for Nelson Piquet.
Nelsinho’s F1 record speaks for itself and is starting to catch up with him. In 21 races he has scored points just 4 times, has failed to make it out of Q1 on 9 occasions, and has wiped himself out of 7 Grands Prix.
He simply has not been good enough to mix it with the best in Formula One.
Sooner or later that disappointing record is going to spell the end of Piquet’s career. It certainly doesn’t make for good reading.
2008 Australian Grand Prix
Qualified miserably in 21st position before crashing into Timo Glock and Giancarlo Fisichella at the first corner. His race didn’t get any better on lap 5 when he quickly lost positions to Glock, Sutil and Bourdais.
2008 Bahrain Grand Prix
Ran off the track on lap 37, but continued without any damage.
2008 Spanish Grand Prix
Made it through to Q3 for the first time but ran off the track early on in the race and lost 8 places. Three laps after ploughing through the gravel Piquet had a lunge at Bourdais and went straight into the Toro Rosso, taking them both out of the race.
2008 Turkish Grand Prix
Failed to make it out of Q1 and ran wide on lap 25 losing a position to Kovalainen.
2008 Monaco Grand Prix
Got stuck in Q1 again and slammed into the barriers rather embarrassingly at Ste Devote on lap 47.
2008 Canadian Grand Prix
Spun off the circuit at the halfway point and dropped to last place.
2008 French Grand Prix
Was too slow getting off the pitlane speed limiter at the end of his first stop, and lost a position to Kovalainen.
2008 British Grand Prix
Spun off the circuit at Club on lap 37 before spinning off again and out of the race at the very next corner.
2008 Belgian Grand Prix
Spun into the barriers all by himself on lap 14 at the Fagnes chicane
2008 Singapore Grand Prix
Failed to break out of Q1 before smashing heavily into the wall on lap 13.
2008 Chinese Grand Prix
Ran off the road at the final corner on lap 13 but continued without damaging his car.
2008 Brazilian Grand Prix
Crashed by himself in the first 30 seconds of the race and failed to continue.
2009 Australian Grand Prix
Did not advance into Q2, and spun into the gravel whilst racing with Rosberg on lap 25 citing “My brakes went crazy“.
2009 Chinese Grand Prix
Spun off the circuit at turn 5 and damaged the car. Repeated his effort again 19 laps later at the final corner and had to make a second stop for repairs. He was last of the finishers, at least one lap behind everyone else.